Joe Johnson was cooking. Deron Williams was having another stellar game. Shaun Livingston and Paul Pierce were providing the necessary support.
The question still stands: Who can beat the Miami Heat four times in seven games?
Not the Brooklyn Nets.
Despite Johnson having 21 points in the second half and doing inexplicable damage out of isolation plays on LeBron James, the Nets couldn’t get over the line.
Miami used a 13-3 run during the final 2:48 of the game with LeBron James and Ray Allen hitting threes and free-throws.
The Nets had the ball, down 95-91 with 21.6 seconds left after Ray Allen converted two free-throws.
Paul Pierce then missed one long three badly, however the ball bounced into Shaun Livingston’s arms. The wiry guard fed the ball back to Joe Johnson, open in the corner, who scored the final three points of his 34-point performance.
With the lead down to one, Brooklyn sent LeBron James to the line. James missed the first before calmly converting the second before Jason Kidd called timeout to set up his final play for the Nets.
That final play turned into a nightmare when Paul Pierce bobbled the ball out of bounds at the sideline. The officials judged it to be out off LeBron, another controversial call eerily similar to the hotly contested call at the end of Oklahoma City’s win against Los Angeles Tuesday night.
The Nets retained possession upon review but again ran a play along the sideline. Once again, the ball was knocked out by Miami as yet more time ran off the clock.
One last time, the Nets ran a play towards the ball and away from the basket. This time, Joe Johnson broke free but Allen and James followed him closely.
Allen poked a couple of times from behind, dislodging the ball as it bounced beneath Johnson’s feet. LeBron knocked it away with a firm hand as the buzzer sounded, the four-time MVP leapt onto the announcer’s table, punching his chest as American Airlines Arena celebrated a fourth consecutive trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.
James finished with 29 points on just 6-14 shooting, though he went 15-17 from the foul line and grabbed 9 rebounds. Dwyane Wade had 20 points in the first half but only 8 in the final two quarters.
A large part of the game was decided beyond the three-point line. Miami players other than Chris Bosh were an ice-cold 5-23 from deep including Allen and LeBron’s big shots late in the game.
Deron Williams added 17 points for Brooklyn while Paul Pierce had 18 points. The Nets led much of the first half and looked set to pull out a great road win in an elimination game for much of the fourth quarter, before an over-reliance on Joe Johnson to generate scoring out of isolation plays led them down a path to offensive stagnation.
Pierce and Garnett looked despondent on the bench down the stretch and at the final buzzer as they reacted to potentially the last act of their careers coming to a close.
Miami now awaits the winner of the Indiana versus Washington series, Game 6 of which takes place Thursday night in Washington after the Wizards routed the Pacers on the home floor in Game 5.
LeBron James: 29 points, 6-14 FGS, 9 rebounds, 15-17 FTS
Dwyane Wade: 28 points, 10-18 FGS, 8-8 FTS
Chris Bosh: 16 points, 6-11 FGS, 4-6 3FGS
Joe Johnson: 34 points, 15-23 FGS, 7 rebounds
Paul Pierce: 19 points, 8-18 FGS
Deron Williams: 17 points, 7-16 FGS, 4 assists